I recently read the book Run the World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe by Becky Wade, an American professional marathon runner. The author takes you on a journey through her worldwide travels experiencing various running cultures. The book is a great read and I loved learning about the different approaches each country has to running.
Running is an international phenomenon. Participation in marathons and half marathons has grown significantly over the years, and research shows the worldwide growth in marathon running from 2009 to 2014 was 13.25%. The United States holds three of the largest and most renowned marathons the world: Boston, Chicago, and NYC; however, there are also major marathons in Tokyo, London, and Berlin.
Kenyans and Ethiopians are well known for dominating the international running scene, but Americans recently have had several winning performances on the global stage. There is a significant difference between how various running cultures train, fuel, recover, and race. In her book Run the World, Becky Wade shares her experiences traveling and running in 9 countries: England, Ireland, Switzerland, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, and Finland. Here is an outline of how the countries compare.
England: Home of the women’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, Wade describes the region as a “fervent, no-excuse running culture” with a “strong recreational running scene”. Wade also describes the intense, historic rivalry between Oxford University and Cambridge University running clubs. In vast contrast to the US, the Universities have no contracts or scholarships for sports, just strong traditions and camaraderie.
Ireland: Wade portrays beautiful scenery, devoted recreational runners, various community athletic clubs, and bounties of entertainment including pubs and dancing.
Switzerland: Full of breathtaking views and incredible mountains, Wade describes running many steep uphill climbs and on endless trails, training at altitude, and traveling on stunning railways. Wade also mentions Switzerland has no professional running groups, so most runners also get an education and work.
Ethiopia: The book states of “the faster fifty marathons run in 2014, twenty-six were run by Kenyans and twenty-four by Ethiopians.” Ethiopia is definitely doing something right! Wade comments on the unstructured training program without use of GPS watches, running primarily by feel and in groups, coffee ceremonies, and rough terrain with many workouts mimicking mountainous treks. Wade also notes the incredible discipline, flexibility, self-awareness, belief in faith/religion, and desperate desire to succeed. Many Ethiopians believe they can escape poverty if they can win in running.
Australia: Wade found Australian running to be a structured routine, full of smooth dirt trails, and well balanced with many social outings and good food. Wade also discovered there was a wide range of talent with intense competitiveness during training, yet relaxed and welcoming otherwise.
New Zealand: Due to the work of Arthur Lydiard, a famous running coach from New Zealand, Wade describes the countries huge running population and large racing scene. Wade notes most of the runners are casual athletes and not elites, but there is a great interest in the active outdoors perhaps facilitated by the gorgeous landscape.
Japan: Similar to the Monks, the Japanese training is intense, extremely disciplined, and involving high mileage. Wade states Japan has an “unparalleled public interest in long-distance running” and a “one-of-a-kind corporate-sponsored running culture.” Wade found the running to be less scenic than some of the other countries due to the traffic and harder running surfaces, but she also discovered their widespread interest in acupuncture and other alternative medicines.
Sweden and Finland: Wade describes the culture as team-driven, nonjudgmental, and full of innovation and variety. Wade discovered the countries historical roots, relaxing in saunas, and orienteering, where competitors race to navigate unfamiliar terrain with maps and compasses.
If I could choose just one of these countries, I would love to experience the running culture of Switzerland.
Where would you want to go?